AIKEN --- Court records from 1969 show that James Brown and his first wife divorced that year, contradicting claims she made Wednesday that the two were married until he died last year.
Velma Warren Brown's Augusta attorney filed papers in Aiken County Probate Court on Wednesday claiming that she was his surviving widow and demanding a share of his estate as if he had died without a will.
Attorney David Bell told The Augusta Chronicle Wednesday night that he could find no record of a divorce that ended Mr. Brown's 1953 marriage to Velma Brown and that therefore all his other marriages were invalid.
That would include the one to Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, the singer's disputed fourth wife, who is also suing for a share of the estate as his omitted spouse.
The Chronicle found a divorce decree Thursday in Richmond County Superior Court. It was signed by Judge John Hardin on Aug. 26, 1969.
It grants Velma Brown -- who filed for dissolution of the marriage on July 17, 1969, citing "insurmountable marital difficulties" -- a divorce from the singer, five years after the two had separated.
A man who answered the phone at Velma Brown's Toccoa, Ga., home referred calls to Mr. Bell, who did not return messages left for him at his office Thursday or respond to an e-mail requesting comment.
The court records The Chronicle found also include the 73-year-old woman's original divorce petition and a handwritten agreement spelling out property settlement and support, signed by both Mr. Brown and Velma Brown on June 27, 1969.
The decree dissolves the marriage and ends with, "The plaintiff herein shall have the right to remarry and the defendant shall have the right to remarry."
Mr. Brown exchanged vows three more times:
- In 1970 to Deidre Jenkins; they divorced in 1981;
- In 1984 to Adrienne Rodriguez, who died in 1996 after liposuction surgery;
- And in 2001 to Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, although the singer's attorneys allege that the marriage was invalid because she was married to someone else when they wed. She is disputing that.
Neither Tomi Rae Hynie Brown nor her 6-year-old son, whose paternity has been questioned, was named in Mr. Brown's will, which was drafted before James II was born and before the couple exchanged vows.
Since Mr. Brown's death on Christmas Day in an Atlanta hospital, his estate has been the focus of lawsuits, with the six children named in his will, Mrs. Brown, his attorneys, court-appointed lawyers and attorneys general in Georgia and South Carolina fighting over settlement of the estate.
One of Mr. Brown's attorneys was forced to resign as an estate trustee after allegations surfaced that he might have misappropriated millions of Mr. Brown's money.
Three daughters confirmed through DNA testing to be children Mr. Brown had out of wedlock are suing for a share of the estate. None were named in his will. Velma Brown is the mother of three of the singer's children: Terry and Larry Brown, and Teddy Brown, who is deceased.
In the affidavit Mr. Bell filed on Wednesday, Velma Brown swears that she and Mr. Brown were never divorced. They last saw each other at his home Dec. 15, and he gave her $4,000, she swore in the affidavit.
Neither Buddy Dallas, Mr. Brown's longtime adviser, nor Tomi Rae Hynie Brown's attorney immediately returned messages seeking comment Thursday.
News Assistant Willie Malpass contributed to this story.
Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEE THE DOCUMENTView a copy of the signed decree in James Brown's 1969 divorce from Velma Brown.